Constitution as Bible

One of the major flaws in the political debate today is the quasi-religious reverence for the Constitution.  In fairness, it is the most important legal document in United States history, and one of the most important in world history.  Nevertheless, such reverence is severely misguided.  The Constitution is a document that was written by men: specifically rich, white, men, many of whom owned slaves.  It was a compromise document (adopted in 1789) that was amended 27 times after its creation.  Even in 1787, the Framers did not agree on what the Constitution meant, let alone afterwards; it was written with deliberately vague language.

The reverence for the Constitution is the same kind of reverence that is held for the Bible.  Whatever the merits of the Bible (or lack thereof), to followers of Judaism and Christianity it is a holy book, divinely written/inspired.  Yet the Constitution is inarguably manmade.  The compromises that helped create it (most infamously about slavery) were most definitely not divinely inspired–although the Bible too condoned slavery.  The Constitution had some abhorrent ideas in it that needed to be changed at the time and subsequently were.

Many of those people who revere the Constitution (such as the Tea Party) revile certain amendments: specifically the 1st, 14th, 16th, and 17th.  They also hate the Commerce Clause and the Necessary and Proper Clause.  They do however, love the 2nd and the 10th Amendments.  With the exception of the 1st Amendment, the parts of the Constitution that the Tea Party hates increases the power of the federal government whereas the 2nd and 10th Amendments limit the power of the federal government.  The Tea Party is trying to reopen a battle over federalism that ended with the Civil War (let alone the Progressive Era of the early 20th Century and the New Deal.)

It is painful to see this kind of worship of (parts of) the Constitution.  Without recognizing its fallibility and the need for change and revision, we are left with the flaws of Originalism–a legal philosophy that is at its heart personal opinion robed in historical dressing.  Because of the sheer difficulty of amending the Constitution (most assuredly a good thing) reinterpretation by the courts is a necessity.  Despite what the detractors of the Living Constitution say, there is no other legitimate way to interpret a document that is well over two centuries old.  The United States of 2011 is too far different from what it was in 1789 to allow the Framers the final word, even if they all agreed.  (Additionally, one could argue that the 14th Amendment changed the entire Constitution so much that the Framers’ intentions is no longer valid.)

The Constitution is not an American Bible.  It is not treason for recognizing this.


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